Two years after his retirement ‘the flying Zimbabwean’ is back in the spotlight
> Robson Sharuko
HARARE – Tonderai Chavhanga has been adjusting to life away from the explosive battlegrounds of rugby union, after retiring from the game two years ago, but when you are an athlete who scored six tries on your Springbok debut, at the young age of 21, and smoked All-Black speedster Siviveni Sivivatu during your career, the world rarely forgets you.
Especially if that world used to call you “The Fastest Man In Rugby” and there is a lot on YouTube to provide evidence why your raw pace used to hold the sport spellbound and cheer the spirits and fantasies of millions of fans who will never let go of those memories.
As of the early hours of Tuesday, one of those videos on YouTube had generated more than 11 524 views.
The 33-year-old has been living a life far away from the fast lane of the game where he made his name, in his adopted city of Durban in South Africa, where he has been raising a young family having been blessed with two kids.
He is also a buzzing entrepreneur, driven by his desire to succeed in business the way he also wrote his fairy-tale – a boy who rose from a rural home in Zimbabwe, came to Harare as a child when he could barely speak English, after his father’s death, and then used his talent to become a record-breaking Springbok.
It’s an amazing story and that is why, maybe, even CNN were lured to recently look for him so that he could feature on their flagship television news magazine programme for Africa, ‘’African Voices,’’ which has brought this Zimbabwean athlete, who made his international breakthrough in the gold-and-green colours of the Springboks, back into the spotlight.
He has been telling his followers and friends on social media that he is “grateful for the opportunity to share my story on #cnnafricanvoices’’, with the programme dubbed “The Legacy Of A Rugby Legend.’’
Chavhanga will always be remembered as that speedy young Springbok who destroyed Uruguay as he scored half-a-dozen tries, in his debut for South Africa, but it’s when you listen to his story that you get to appreciate how his talent took him to heights very few in his village would have dreamt of.
“I grew up in a small village in Masvingo province in Zimbabwe. I was actually raised by my grandmother. This is where I found out that I had an athletic ability after I broke my granny’s sewing machine. She wanted to beat me up and I ran as fast as I could,’’ he tells CNN.
“After my father passed away, my uncle decided that it was best for me to go live with him in the City. You realise that if I had stayed in rural Zimuto my life could have amounted to nothing.
“He enrolled me into Blakiston Primary School. I started playing rugby immediately and ended up captaining the school team. I think what made the transition difficult for me into the city was I couldn’t speak English.
“Fortunately, for me sport was a great equaliser. I think that sport has the power to bring people together through a shared interest and a passion.
“For me, my sport happened to be rugby and it gave an opportunity to live my dream and secure my future.”
After earning a scholarship to go to Prince Edward School in Harare, where his talent was clearly obvious, Chavhanga – like many very good Zimbabwean rugby players before him – was lured across the Limpopo to South Africa which has been his home since he started making waves at Free State Cheetahs before playing for the Stormers, Golden Lions and the Sharks.
One man, in particular, 2007 Rugby World Cup winning coach Jack White, believed in him and gave him his chance with the Boks.
“World Cup winning coach Jack White finally gave me the opportunity I dreamt of for so long, selecting me for the Springboks. I remember sitting on my bed, the night before the game, just praying, thanking God for giving me the opportunity to play for the Springboks, that it would be great if I can score at least a try just to cap it off,” he said.
“I am very grateful for a career that gave me priceless memories. I am also thankful for all the people that helped me in my journey and it’s important for me to honour them by giving back. Sport has taught me so many life lessons about tenacity and hard work, lessons about getting up when you are knocked down.”
And those who have followed him, during his time as that high-flying athlete, also remember a man who was never afraid to speak out and was proud to identify himself with his Zimbabwean roots.
In 2008, as South Africa battled with a wave of xenophobic attacks, Chavhanga chose to tackle this head-on, telling the world he was sickened by what was happening in the townships, especially given that the same people who had embraced him as their own had now turned on his fellow Zimbabweans.
“My heart bleeds when I hear and read out it,” said Chavhanga. ‘’My heart is sore. People have lost loved ones, and some of those who died are people who provide for families.
“For any human being to become so intolerant of each other that they have to resort to killing, well there are other ways we can raise issues.
“My heart is very sore, even though my family and friends have not been affected by it. My heart bleeds for people who have lost those that cared for them.”
And, nine years later, he remains true to his principles, a man who speaks his mind and who has never forgotten his roots – the rugby star they used to call “The Flying Zimbabwean.’’